Better Conservation through Cloning: this cock doesn’t crow

Poor Vindaloo never learned to crow.

Poor Vindaloo never learned to crow. Photo by Andrew David Thaler.

I awoke one morning early last spring to a noise I has been dreading for weeks, the first crow of a chicken that was not supposed to be a rooster. It took me several minutes to fully register what I was hearing. Rather that the classic cock-a-doodle-do we often associate with the rooster’s crow, the sound emanating from my hen house was an awkward, unstable noise not unlike a turkey squawking through a vat of molasses while being vigorously shaken. Over the next several months, two more cocks arrived crowing, in my flock. All three roosters, different breeds from different parents, made noises resembling nothing like a rooster’s crow. There was no pattern; some mornings they would crow off-and-on for a few hours, other mornings they would, for lack of a better word, gargle for half-an-hour straight.

I raise my chickens from day-old hatchlings. Those three roosters, from my very first flock, had never met an adult chicken. They imprinted on Amy and me and looked to us for guidance. When we introduced them to new food, new water dispensers, even small changes to their habitat (like a particularly terrifying log), we had to teach them. Instinctively, they would scratch for food, and if left to their own devices, they would attempt to eat everything, but for the most part, we had to show them how to eat, how to drink, how to roost. But we could not teach them how to crow.

Which is why Casey B. Mulligan’s Economix article in the New York Times – Species Protection and Technology – which argues that cloning could be an effective tool to restore extinct species (a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit in terms of population dynamics), is fatally flawed.

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